By LESLIE WILLIAMS
The year came full circle for the Naples Jewish community Sunday night.
At the Ritz-Carlton Naples, a Torah hand-written specifically for the Naples community, was inscribed with its final letters 11 months after it was begun at the same place.
Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, director of Chabad Jewish Center of Naples, and the driving force behind the effort, spoke before a crowd of roughly 300 people gathered to share in the elation of bringing home a text thousands of years in the making. He reminded those present of how Jewish religion and culture has endured despite pogroms and holocausts.
“The secret of our immortality is one consistent theme; could it be food?” Zaklos said and the audience laughed.
“I can’t help but think it’s something more than kosher Chinese cuisine,” he said. “There is only one theme that has kept, protected and united the Jewish people throughout history: It’s the Torah. The Torah has given us the strength, the courage to fight the odds, to roll with the punches.”
Amid singing, dancing and laughter, Rabbi Moshe Klein completed the last of the 304,805 letters that make up the Torah. Even as Rabbi Ruvi New sang songs from the Torah, stomping his feet on the stage to keep time, Klein kept his hand steady as he perfected the letters.
As he had done in January for the beginning of the Torah, Klein flew from Brooklyn, N.Y., to oversee its completion. His careful hand crafted each letter on the scrolls, assisted by others from within the Naples Jewish community.
Individual letters, words, passages or books of the Torah were dedicated by members of the community, helping fund the creation of the Torah and lending a sense of interconnection to its birth.
“The fact that there is support from the greater Jewish community and the community at large, it creates a warm and welcoming environment,” said Nancy Wiadro, a member of Hadassah, a Jewish women’s organization. “It creates a balance of influence in the spiritual community.”
The gathering was attended by local elected officials, including Naples Mayor Bill Barnett, who helped Klein fill in one of the final letters. To write a single letter in a Torah is a fulfillment of the last of 613 “mitzvahs,” or obligations, specified by the Torah.
By taking part in that act, a member of the Jewish faith is believed to be connected, very literally, to the moment on Mount Sinai when Moses received the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament, and the Ten Commandments.
“This is a wonderful tribute, not only to all of Naples, but to you as well,” said Barnett to the audience.
While the completion and dedication of the text had a larger meaning for the mass of gathered people, it also had a very personal meaning for Zaklos. It was dedicated to the memory of his brother, Yosef Yitzchak Zaklos, who passed away in 1997 at 19 when he was a rabbinical student.
Spending his final days in a hospital bed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Yosef Yitzchak Zaklos was often visited by people hoping to bring him cheer and inspiration, his brother told the crowd.
“They would end up leaving his bed inspired by his joy and kindness,” Fishel Zaklos said.
He was encouraged along by two members of Chabad, Dr. Art Seigel and Dr. Mark Moskowitz, who approached him a little more than a year ago with the idea of finally giving the Southwest Florida community its own Torah.
It is the text that will be read at bar and bat mitzvahs, at marriages, deaths and births.
Children were a centerpiece of the ceremony as well, singing for the audience, and reminding them of the inevitability of rebirth and the new Torah’s place in the future of the Naples Jewish community. For Wiadro, that point was most poignantly felt, as she looked at parents passing their children to grandparents and even great-grandparents.
“This is an accomplishment for the ages,” said Wiadro. “And you see all ages here. … To me, I’ve a tremendous sense of connection with my heritage at an event like this.”
Ettie Zaklos, wife of Rabbi Zaklos, and director of the Chabad Hebrew School, reminded the audience that the children of Israel were promised as the guarantors of the Torah when it was handed down at Mount Sinai.
“It means that the Chabad is here to stay,” said Carl Steinhouse, an author of books about the Holocaust, who attended with his wife, Diana. “And that’s a very important milestone.”
-Naples Daily News